A. S. Makarenko Reference Archive

The Road to Life
Volume 1


We did not know where Osadchy had gone. Some said he had set out for Tashkent, where everything was cheap, and a gay life could be enjoyed, others, that Osadchy had an uncle in our town, or perhaps it was only a friend who was a drayman.

I did not know how to recover my mental equilibrium after this fresh pedagogical setback. The boys bombarded me with questions--hadn't I heard anything about Osadchy?

"What's Osadchy to you?" I asked. "What makes you worry so?"

"We're not worrying," said Yarabanov, "but it would be better if he were here. It would be better for you."

"I don't understand."

Karabanov turned a Mephistophelian glance upon me.

"Maybe you don't feel so good inside ... in your soul?"

"You go to hell, with your talk about souls!" I yelled. "What do you think--am I to give up my soul to you now?"

Karabanov quietly slipped away from me.

In the meanwhile the colony rang with life. All around me was its cheerful music, and I could hear from beneath my window (somehow everyone seemed to gather beneath my window), the sounds of the jokes and pranks with which the daily tasks were interspersed; and there seemed to be no bickering. And one day Ekaterina Grigoryevna said to me, like a nurse trying to humour a very sick patient: "Stop eating your heart out--it'll pass!"

"I'm not worrying! Of course it'll pass! How are things in the colony?"

"I can hardly explain it to myself," she replied. "Things are fine in the colony, quite human, you know. Our Jewish boys are darlings--they're a bit overawed by everything that's happened, but they're working splendidly, if they are a bit shy! Would you believe it--the seniors are simply coddling them! Mityagin fusses round like a nurse--once he actually made Gleiser wash himself, and he cut his hair and even sewed on his buttons for him!"

Everything was going well. Yes, but what of the soul of the pedagogue? It was given up to chaos in which a veritable jumble of thoughts and feelings ran riot. One question especially pursued me--was I never to discover wherein lay the secret? Everything seemed to have been in my hands, I only had to gather it up. There was a new look in the eyes of many of the boys, and then everything had collapsed ignominiously. Could it be that we would have to begin all over again?

I was enraged by the disgracefully low level of pedagogical technique, and my own lack of technical skill. And I pondered with disgust and fury over the science of pedagogics.

"How many thousands of years has it been in existence?" I thought. "What names--what brilliant ideas--Pestalozzi, Rousseau, Natorp, Blonsky! How many volumes, what reams of paper, how many reputations! And at the same time--a void. It all amounts to nothing, and no one can tell me how to deal with one young hooligan! There is no method, no means, no logic-nothing! Nothing but a lot of claptrap!"

Least of all did I worry about Osadchy. I had written him off as a bad debt, entering him on the list of losses and spoilage inevitable in any enterprise. Nor was I much impressed by his melodramatic departure.

Besides, he soon returned.

And then fresh disaster came upon us, on hearing of which I at last realized what was meant by people's hair standing on end.

One still winter night a gang of the Gorky boys, Osadchy among them, got involved in a brawl with the lads of Pirogovka. The brawl developed into a regular fight, our side chiefly using cold steel (Finnish knives), the other side using firearms--sawn-off rifles. The fight ended in a victory for our side. The village lads were driven from their position at the head of the street, whence they fled ignominiously, locking themselves into the building of the Village Soviet. By three o'clock the Village Soviet was taken by storm, in other words, the doors and windows were broken in, and the fight turned into energetic pursuit. The village boys escaped through these doors, and windows, and ran to their homes, the Gorky boys returned in triumph to the colony.

The worst of it was that the premises of the Village Soviet itself were thoroughly smashed up, and the next day it was impossible to work there. In addition to windows and doors, tables and benches had also been rendered useless, papers scattered, and inkpots broken.

The next morning the bandits waked up as innocent as babes, and went about their work. But at noon the chairman of the Pirogovka Village Soviet came to me with the story of the previous night.

I gazed with astonishment at the skinny, canny little villager. I could not understand how he could go on talking to me, why he did not call the militia, and have all these ruffians, and myself with them, put under arrest.

But the chairman related it all more in sorrow than in anger, his chief anxiety appearing to be that the colony should repair the windows and doors, and have the tables mended. He ended by asking if the colony would let him, the Pirogovka chairman, have a couple of inkpots!

I was simply overwhelmed with astonishment, completely failing to understand the reason for such an indulgent attitude on the part of the authorities. Then I decided that the chairman, like myself, unable to grasp the full horror of the incident, was simply talking because he felt the necessity of reacting somehow or other. I judged him by myself--who could do nothing but mutter trivialities.

"Of course, of course!" I assured him. "We'll repair everything. Inkpots? You can have these!"

The chairman took an inkpot, holding it carefully in his left hand, pressed against his abdomen. It was an ordinary safety inkpot.

"We'll repair everything," I repeated. "I'll send a man at once. The only thing we shall have to put off will be the windowpanes--we shall have to go to town to get glass."

The chairman cast a grateful glance at me.

"Oh, tomorrow will do--when you get the glass--then you can do it all together."

"M'hm. All right, tomorrow then!"

But why doesn't he go then, this remarkably meek chairman?

"Are you going straight home?" I asked him.


The chairman glanced over his shoulder, pulled a yellow handkerchief out of his pocket, and wiped his perfectly clean moustache. Then he moved closer to me.

"It's like this, you see," he said. "Your lads yesterday took.., they're all just young fellows, you know... and my lad was there, too. Well, as I say, they're all quite young, it's all in fun, nothing serious--God forbid! Their chums have them, and he wanted one, too.... It's just as I was saying... in our times, you know... they all carry them...."

"What on earth are you driving at? Forgive me, I don't quite understand...."

"The gun!" blurted out the chairman.

"What gun?"

"The gun!"

"What about it?"

"Well, for God's sake--it's just what I say! They were fooling about... you know, yesterday, I mean. And your lads took one away from mine, and from another of them, or perhaps they lost them--they'd all had a drop too much, you know. Where do they get the stuff from, I'd like to know!"

"Who had a drop too much?"

"Well, for God's sake! Who? Who? How can one know who? I wasn't there, but they all say your chaps were drunk."

"And yours?"

The chairman hesitated.

"I wasn't there, I tell you," he repeated. "Of course yesterday was Sunday. But that's not what I've come about. They're young, your lads, too. I'm not saying anything ... there was a scrimmage, nobody was killed, or even wounded. Or perhaps some of your boys were?" he concluded nervously.

"I haven't spoken to our boys yet." "I couldn't say--somebody said there were two or three shots. Maybe as they were running away--your lads are very fiery, you know, and our country boys, they're not so quick at the uptake, you know.... Tee-hee!"

The old fellow laughed, screwing up his eyes, ever so loving and friendly.... Such old men are always called "Dad" by everyone. Looking at him, I could not help laughing, too, but within, all was chaos.

"So you think nothing special happened--they fought, and they'll make it up," I suggested.

"That's just it, that's just it--they must make it up. In my young days we fought over girls in real earnest. My brother Yakov was beaten to death by the other lads. You just call your lads and give them a talking, so that they won't do it any more."

I went out on to the porch.

"Call all the boys who were in Pirogovka last night!"

"Where are they?" asked a sharp little chap who happened to he crossing the yard on extremely urgent business of his own.

"Don't you know who was in Pirogovka last night?"

"Aren't you sly? I'd better tell Burun to go to you."

"All right--call Burun!"

Burun appeared on the porch.

"Is Osadchy in the colony?" I asked.

"Yes. He's working in the joiners' shop."

"You tell him this--our boys were on the spree in Pirogovka yesterday, and it's a very serious affair."

"Yes, the fellows were talking about it."

"Very well, then. Just you tell Osadchy that they're all to come to me--the chairman's in my room. And let there be no nonsense, it could end very unpleasantly."

My office filled up with the "heroes" of Pirogovka--Osadchy, Prikhodko, Chobot, Oprishko, Galatenko, Golos, Soroka, and a few others whose names have slipped my memory. Osadchy seemed quite at his ease, as if there had never been anything wrong between us, and I had no wish to rake up old scores in front of outsiders.

"You were in Pirogovka yesterday, you were drunk, there was rough-housing. People tried to stop you, and you beat up the village lads, and smashed up the Village Soviet. Isn't that so?"

"It wasn't quite like you say," volunteered Osadchy. "The fellows were in Pirogovka, that's true, and I was there three days, you know, I ... but we weren't drunk, that's not true. Their Panas and our Soroka were at it from the morning, and Soroka was a bit tight ... just a little, you know. Golos was treated by friends. But all the rest were as dry as a bone. And we didn't start anything with anybody, we just walked up and down, like everybody else. And then some guy--Kharchenko it was--came up to me and shouted. 'Hands up!' and pointed his gun at me. I did give him a sock in the jaw then, it's true. That's how it all started. They were angry with us because the girls liked going with us best."

"What 'all started'?"

"Oh, nothing, there was just a scrimmage. If they hadn't fired, nothing would have happened. But Panas fired, and Kharchenko too, and so we began to chase them. We didn't want to beat them up--just to take their guns away--and they locked themselves in. Prikhodko--you know what he is!--he up and--"

"Never mind all that! Where are the guns? How many did you get?"


Osadchy turned to Soroka.

"Bring them here!" I commanded.

The guns were produced. I sent the boys back to the workshops. The chairman hovered around the guns.

"So I can take them?"

"Oh, no! Your son has no right to carry a gun. Nor has Kharchenko. And I have no right to give them back to you."

"What do I want them for? Don't you give them up, let them stay here, maybe they'll come in handy in the woods, to frighten off thieves.... I just wanted to ask you not to make too much of the whole business... boys will be boys, you know... ."

"You mean you don't want me to report...."

"Why yes, you know...."

I laughed.

"Why should I? We're neighbours, aren't we?"

"That's it!" exclaimed the old man joyfully. "We're neighbours! These things will happen! And if every little thing were to be reported to the authorities...."

The chairman departed, and I breathed freely.

I ought to have made pedagogical capital out of this business. But both the boys and I were so relieved that everything had ended satisfactorily that this time I dispensed with pedagogics. I did not punish anyone, only making them promise never to go to Pirogovka again without my permission, and to try and establish friendly relations with the lads of the village.